On the road: philadelphiaunion.com travels to Montreal...by car.
It came on a whim, really.
For weeks, fellow philadelphiaunion.com writer Kevin Kinkead told me of his plans to road trip to Canada to cover the Union's first match of the 2013 MLS season against Montreal. I realized this was a perfect opportunity to scratch a pet peeve of mine, albeit minor but still a peeve. Generally on road trips, our video department gives a member of the team a flip cam to shoot the escapades that happen over the course of a weekend.
Amobi Okugo has taken the reins on this. Crazy stat: everytime he's made it a staple of the team's road trips, the Union have let to lose on the road.
Watch: On the road: Colorado
In my mind, though these are road matches, you can't really call it a "road trip" since the team generally travels by airplane. So with that said, Kevin and I set out to do an actual road trip. Complete time to the Canadian border: eight hours and 17 minutes. Tack on another 45 minutes to the hotel and then a 72-hour period that will become one of the most memorable experiences in my short time with the Union thus far. Here’s a diary both Kevin and I created along with the video above to give a bit of insight into the experience.
Friday, May 24
10:30 a.m.: Pick up rental car which was located in Center City at Amtrak's 30th Street Station. An experience soon to not be forgotten. The cars aren’t just located outside of the building, they are actually up an escalator, across a bridge, down an elevator and into a parking lot. Of course, the car wasn't in the numbered space we were originally given.
11:30 a.m.: Officially on the road to Montreal after picking up a plethora of random snacks.
1 p.m.: Only the finest lunch a rest stop on I-87 North can offer: a hamburger from Roy Rogers (didn’t even know Roy Rogers' existed anymore) and fries that tasted like they sat out under a heat lamp for a month. It was then Kevin and I decided for the rest of the weekend we are eating like kings.
2:00-6:30 p.m.: Enjoying the beauty of the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains, though it was conveyed through streaky glass compliments of a steady downpour that didn’t stop literally until we were about two hours from home on Sunday afternoon. We stopped off at a rest stop called High Peaks North. Kevin was amazed at the machine that dispensed coffee and tea and was baffled as to how and when the cup knew there was enough liquid in it to stop pouring.
More on the rain later…
8:12 p.m.: Arrive at the Canadian border in which we gave the border patrolman a couple of “What Do You Stand For” bumper stickers for his car. To which he replied, “Oh, thank you guys...but what is this Philadelphia Union?” We enlighten him, he gives us back our passports and we are in Canada.
8:40 p.m.: Still surprisingly daylight crossing the bridge into Montreal, in which I was able to capture one of the best sunsets I’d ever seen.
9:10 p.m.: Arrive in to the hotel and from all the signs, Kevin and I both decide to put the French word “Le” in front of everything we see. Some might call it “Americanus Ignoramus.” We called it hysterical.
9:45 p.m.: Had dinner at a spot called Dundees Bar and Grill. Kevin and I sit at the bar where we are served by a very attractive bartender/server. It wasn’t only after dinner and we are minutes from leaving do we strike a conversation with her and find out she’s actually the girlfriend of former Union midfielder and current Impact winger Justin Mapp. She proceeds to tell us she started dating Mapp fairly recently and only after a time in which he frequented the bar for about two months on nights he knew she’d be working. We then both applauded Mapp for his dedication, probably over tipped and then left.
Saturday, May 25
11 a.m.: Breakfast at a place called “Café Imagination.” Pleasantly surprised at the portion controlled size of my waffles and side order of bacon because it was literally two tea saucer-sized waffles topped with fresh fruit and two strips of bacon. Kevin and I both surmised (and the server, who used to live in Brooklyn) agreed that the same order in the States would have been almost three times the size. And although the portion was not was I was used to, it was surprisingly filling.
11:45 p.m-1:30 p.m.: Perused some of the shops on St. Catherine Street which looks like Montreal’s version of Walnut St. from Broad to Rittenhouse Sq. It was a fun experience – except for the steady downpour of course. Introduced Kevin to Canada’s version of J.Crew in a shop called Roots. Then went to a little sporting goods store, bought a few things, and asked the manager if he could hook it up with a “tourist discount;” he laughed – and then gave me 10 percent off my purchases.
2 p.m.: Watched the first half of the UEFA Champions League final at the hotel bar and ate another perfectly portion sized Panini and side salad. They do it right in Canada.
(At this point, Kevin takes over writing the remainder of our trip)
3 p.m.: Leaving for Stade Saputo. Of course it's still raining. It's been raining for the last 28 hours. The hotel has 10 levels in a basement parking garage, and we're located on level 6. We grab the car, pull up the ramp, and the drizzle turns into a downpour as soon as we hit the street.
3:15 p.m.: Stuck in traffic. There aren't a lot of dedicated left turn lanes in the big Canadian cities, so we're slogging down Sherbrooke Street on our way to Olympic Park.
3:45 p.m.: Arrive at Stade Saputo. The stadium is located right next door to Montreal's Olympic Stadium, which was the centerpiece of the 1976 Summer games. They call it the big "O". The entire complex is somewhat similar to Philadelphia' sports complex. You've got Stade Saputo on the corner, Olympic Stadium next door, and a bunch of other indoor facilities further down. Stade Saputo reminds me of a slightly larger PPL Park. It was renovated just last year when the Impact joined Major League Soccer.
5:00 p.m: Kickoff. It's still raining. Two dozen Sons of Ben are holding down the fort in the Stadium's northern end.
5:01 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.: The Union score three goals, but Montreal scores five. Philadelphia keeps fighting back, but ultimately falls to a determined and efficient Impact squad.
10 p.m: We've wrapped up post-game duties and we're heading back to the hotel. Jonathan Tannenwald from philly.com hops in the car with us. We pull out of the parking garage, and immediately hear a loud "pop". Kerith thinks we've got a flat tire. We get out of the car and see a crushed strawberry milk container on the ground. Someone got a kick out of putting that underneath our tire. Maybe it was the Virginia license plate.
11 p.m: We've been hearing about this unique Quebecois food called "Poutine" for the entire weekend, and we decide we have to try it tonight, because we've got to leave early tomorrow. Poutine is pretty simple. It's french fries, covered with gravy and cheese curds. We're told that's what all poutine variants begin with. You can add a bunch of different ingredients, but it's not poutine without the gravy and cheese curds.
We walk from the hotel to a place called "Les 3 Brasseurs", which means "The Three Brewers" in English. It's a cool micropub type of place. I try to convince Kerith to get the "Philly" poutine, which includes steak and caramelized onions. He ends up getting a version with bacon, and mine comes with smoked meat on top.
Gotta be honest, I wasn't sure what to think when it came out but we were here to broaden our horizons, and we're pretty hungry anyway.
Verdict: 10/10. The stuff was fantastic. It gets the seal of approval from me at least.
Sunday, May 26
7:30 a.m.: We're up and out the door. I've got to be at my other job by 3:30 p.m., so there's no time to waste.
7:45 a.m.: Stop at a gas station that looked as if it was featured in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Full service pump guy however was extremely nice. Kerith also spotted a cat with cataracts. Not kidding, this cat was blind as a bat.
8:15 a.m.: Crossing back over into the states. The border guard is disappointed in the 5-3 scoreline. We give him a bumper sticker and hit the road.
1 p.m.: On I-87 just south of Albany. The rain finally stops. It had been raining literally non-stop for 48 hours. I turn off the windshield wipers for the first time of the entire trip.
1:01 p.m.-3:30 p.m.: Interesting rotation on the CD player. We go from Wu-Tang Clan, to ZZ Top, to Notorious B.I.G. I find an old Cypress Hill mix in my CD sleeve, so that goes into the player as well. Method Man is up next, followed by a few Sublime tunes. It's an eclectic mix.
3:45 p.m.: High-tailing it back to Philly because we thought the rental car office closed at 4:00 p.m. Until we called to let them know we weren't going to make it by then.
Turns out it's actually 7:00 p.m. Whoops.
4:30 p.m.: Arrival in Philly. Long day but all in all even with the rain, stretches of highway that appeared endless at times and coming up on the latter end of a 5-3 scoreline, the Montreal trip is deemed a success. 100 percent.
Follow Union writers Kerith Gabriel (@sprtswtr) and Kevin Kinkead (@PhilUKevinK) on Twitter.